These days, we use actual paper money and coins less and less often, as credit and debit cards—and, more recently, our phones—handle the payments for what we buy. Have you ever wondered: what would it look like if we went entirely cashless?
To see, all we have to do is look to Sweden, where the amount of kronor in circulation has fallen from 80 billion down to 58 billion in just the last four years—a reduction of 27.5%. During the same period, ATM withdrawals have fallen by more than half, and more than half of all Swedish banking branches won’t accept deposits or allow withdrawals. Only sixty percent of Swedes can remember using cash at all in the most recent month. Many of them use Swish—an app which allows instant cash transfers using just a mobile phone number. A few thousand Swedish citizens have implanted RFID chips under their skin, so that they can pay with nothing more than the swipe of their palm.
The Forex organization has actually listed Canada as the world’s most cashless country, followed by Sweden, the UK, France and, in fifth place, the United States, just ahead of China. Australia, Germany, Japan and Russia round out the top ten. This suggests that the trend will continue—these are, after all, many of the world’s strongest and most advanced economies. But some observers worry that digital processing of transactions will erode the meaning of a country’s currency—the end, if you will, of state money, of the kronor, Canadian dollar, the pound, franc and U.S. dollar. Indeed, a recent proposal—not yet acted on by any government—would replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency with a jointly-issued cryptocurrency that everyone would use, to be called the Synthetic Hegemonic Currency. No, paying with Synthetic Hegemonic Currency units is not very catchy, and cryptocurrencies so far have a bit of a sketchy reputation. But you can bank on seeing fewer bills and coins in the future than you have in the past.